Why are Punjab farmers protesting

  • This FAQ provides answers to commonly asked questions like why farmers are protesting, case against MSP, Khalistan Bogie, Falling ground water levels, who is responsible for farmer distress etc.

Farmer protests, mainly by Sikh farmers of Punjab, making newspaper headlines again. What are the issues?


This FAQ shares information and insights whilst asking some questions (not in order of priority) to Punjab Farmers and State Government.  The Central government is a facilitator, others have to fulfil their responsibilities too. Made it brief, links at end of article are for those who wish to deep dive on subject.


1. Why does Punjab have fewer Farmer Producer Organizations (FPO)?

S S Chahal (former VC, Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture & Technology, Udaipur)   wrote that in 2020 Punjab had 13, Haryana 257, Uttar Pradesh 654, Maharashtra 1955 and Tamil Nadu 241 FPO’s. 


How do FPO’s help farmer’s esp. the smaller ones?


“FPO’s can facilitate vibrant and sustainable income-oriented farming by enhancing productivity, realising higher returns through collective action for better marketing linkages and ultimately becoming economically viable and self-sustaining units.” Source Tribune Chandigarh March 2022 by S S Chahal


Read  About Farmer Producer Organization Scheme 

 FPOs work in Eastern UP but Punjab! Indian Express report


2. Given falling groundwater levels (due to cultivation of rice) why has Punjab not taken to micro-irrigation?

Micro-irrigation practiced by Sikh farmer in water-short Yuba City, California. 

Chahal wrote, “The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare was the nodal ministry for the NABARD-supported Rs 5,000 crore corpus fund for micro-irrigation that was made operational with the objective of providing additional resources for incentivising its adoption by different states from 2019 to 2021. It helped to expand micro-irrigation to an area of 12.83 lakh hectares involving 10.20 lakh farmers in different states, but not in Punjab. 


Loans released to Punjab by NABARD  for micro-irrigation were only Rs 18.06 crs of the sanctioned Rs 149.65 crore? Source


States such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat withdrew 100 per cent, 82 per cent and 49 per cent out of the sanctioned amount of Rs 616.13 crore, Rs 1,357.93 crore and Rs 764.13 crore, respectively.”  Punjab at 12% and Haryana at 9% were laggards. Source


Only farmers and state government can tell why Punjab has not taken to micro-irrigation like fish take to water. If farmers do not avail of opportunities that come their way, there is that much others can do. 


Punjab is no longer the land of Five Rivers. Read    Is Punjab the land of 5 rivers 

Drip-irrigation in water short Kutch, Gujarat. 

3. Why is the Central government being repeatedly petitioned through protest marches to New Delhi when Agriculture is a State subject under the Indian Constitution?

Wish someone helped with an answer. After all, only States have a constitutional right to tax Agricultural Income!


Read   Why India needs a master class in accountability of each arm of the government? And Solution to Farm Distress lies with the state government


Taxing Agriculture Income selectively is an idea whose time has come


4. Why do Punjab farmers enjoy Free Power?

Cost of free power is app Rs 7,500 crores p.a. It leaves little resources for the state government to spend on other farmer needs.


Around 1997-98 the Akali Dal-BJP state government decided to provide farmers with free power. Akalis were catering to their voter base of Jaat Sikh farmers but BJP!


Read   Free Power, MSP and Cancer


5. Why has the Punjab government not implemented a Jyoti Gram Yojna type of scheme (separate lines for home use and agriculture) like Gujarat did around 2005?

I wrote in 2006, “Due to inadequate power generation and excessive consumption by the agricultural sector, load shedding was unavoidable. With an investment of Rs 1,300-1,500 crore, the government decided to provide single/three-phase electricity connections to domestic and cottage industry consumers in all villages with a population more than 3,000. This way, line one is for agricultural and line two for domestic use. Homes are assured power for about 20 hours a day and the farmer gets a minimum of eight hours.”


Can Punjab replicate? This is not rocket science. The move might stop power theft by those who use free power, meant for agriculture, in their homes?


6. Why Punjab has no Agri start ups?

Chahal wrote, “The Centre has raised manifold the funds meant for startups, under the scheme launched in 2016. As per FICCI-2021 report, Karnataka has the maximum number of agri startups, followed by Maharashtra, NCR, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Gujarat, whereas Punjab is not even taking baby steps despite suffering from large-scale unemployment among the educated youth.” Source Tribune Chandigarh March 2022 by S S Chahal

Punjab needs more hospitals for cancer treatment. 

7. Why can farmers not be given a legal guarantee of Minimum Support Price?

MSP was introduced in the 1960s. Noted economist Ashok Gulati told Moneycontrol.com, “The MSP works as a vital safety net for farmers, ensuring they receive equitable price for their crops, especially during periods of market volatility or when market prices fall below the MSP.”


Read   What is MSP


Senior journalist, Late Sunil Jain wrote in December 2020, “In case the MSP is guaranteed, and that will have to be for all crops and across the country – and once this is given, those growing other crops like fruits and vegetables will also demand MSP – the impact will be huge. The impact will differ from crop to crop, and even mandi to mandi, but given the difference between mandi prices and MSPs range between 20 and 50%, the cost to the government can run into several lakh crore rupees every year.” Financial Express


Swaminathan A Iyer wrote in the Times of India of 18/2/2024, "Farmers seek implementation of a price formula suggested by the Swaminathn Commission. MSP for crops should be 50% higher than cost of production. This implies a net profit of 33.3% of Sales." Which business earns such returns.


To keep the foreign hand away, the Centre must ensure purchase at MSP is available only to resident Indians who are citizens of India and own agricultural land.


Read   MSP trap will bankrupt government and cripple trade And Making MSP legal obligation can create complexities warns economist Ashok Gulati

Guru Govind Singhji founded Khalsa on 30/3/1699. San Jose Gurdwara, California. 

8. Was Punjab always a rice-growing region?

Punjab was a non-rice producing state till the 1970s. The crop was grown only in some parts of the Ferozepur-Amritsar-Gurdaspur belt. In 1961, the area under paddy was only 2.27 lakh hectares.

According to this report in Open, "Conversations with older farmers confirm how the unprecedented shift in cropping patterns – especially the dominance of paddy – has spread within the span of a generation. When we were young, paddy was sown in less than 2 per cent of the cultivable land,” says one. "Now, everyone is cultivating paddy. Earlier farmers used to cultivate, bajra, sugarcane, jowar and other fodder as well.”

We Punjabis are not rice-eaters. Rajma Chawal, Chana Chawal, Kadi Chawal is when we consume rice. 

P S Sidhu wrote (retired Senior Agriculturist with the World Bank) in The Tribune in 2017, “With production increasing in deficit states and per capita cereal consumption declining across all segments of the population (including poor households), India does not need Punjab's surplus rice and wheat. As inflation targeting is a stated monetary policy goal, substantial increase in the minimum support price of paddy and wheat  in the future is unlikely.”  

As amongst the biggest beneficiaries of MSP buying, Punjab farmers know the days of growing rice and wheat are limited. They must realize that the India of the 1960s and 2024 are vastly different.

India has changed, so must farmers. Sadly, the cash-strapped Punjab government (wrong priorities) has little money to help the change, hence march to Delhi.

Read   State-wise paddy and wheat procurement under MSP

9. Why do Punjab farmers love growing rice?

The answer lies in rice being purchased at a Minimum Support Price declared by the central government. MSP ensures that price at which farmer sells his produce is known and payment guaranteed. Unlike wheat, residents of Punjab consume very little rice but the lure of MSP is strong.


Inspite of not being in law quantity procured under MSP is unlimited i.e. open-ended. No wonder, there are reports of rice coming from other states to Punjab and being sold at MSP.


Read  Growing Paddy drains Punjab of its water resources


To understand how big the beneficiaries and leakages are Sidhu adds, “Appalled by a gap of Rs 20,000 crore between outstanding Cash Credit Limit and value of physical stocks with procurement agencies (which should always match), in April 2016, RBI directed the banks to classify Rs 12,000 of the outstanding food loan as non-performing asset.” 


10. Why does the Khalistan issue invariably come up during farmer protests?

Jaat Sikhs, who are the biggest farmers - a legacy of the Punjab Land Alienation Act, 1900 were also the biggest proponents of the Khalistani Movement of the 1980-1990s (no offence meant).


During current protests saw some videos on X (earlier Twitter) of Sikhs saying give us MSP or Khalistan (we will join Pakistan). I know of many Sikhs today who are against Khalistan. Respected Cap Amarinder Singh (former Congress leader now in BJP) said years ago said he could not implement the Supreme Court order on the Sutlej-Yamuna canal as it would revive the demands for Khalistan.


You see, Khalistan is a bogie today. Because of over 21,000 deaths in 1980-1990s, courts and politicians tread with caution when the K word is used.  


Read   Punjab should reform its subsidy structure, reduce dependence on MSP


To Sikhs who wish to join Pakistan say, Brothers and Sisters, see the state of Pakistan before migrating. 


Read   Truth about Sikh alienation in Punjab And The real butchers of Punjab


For those who say there is no caste in Sikhs please read Caste in Sikhs


11. What about Politics in farmer protests?

Farmers, being essentially, Jaat Sikh are the core support base of Akali Dal. Jaats have ruled the state since it was formed in 1966. For them, agriculture is a source of power. The state government, being AAP, would do anything to show this BJP government in poor light.


Further, the happiness and civilizational pride post the Pran Pratistha at the Ram Mandir Ayodhya, needed to be disturbed so that BJP does not reap political benefit.  


Late Sunil Jain wrote in November 2020 This is about politics not farmer’s rights

Baba Deep Singh, head cut off in fight with Jamal Khan. Holding head in hand he reached Hari Mandir.

My Dadaji, his father with turban, helped re-build our lives post partition.

12. Farmers asking for Farm Loan Waivers?

That farm loan waivers are bad is a no brainer.


A rational farmer would ask for: A time bound district wise plan for increase in irrigated area, Large-scale implementation of micro irrigation schemes, Scrapping of APMC across markets (Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee) and Growing of crops that are compatible with the soil.


 Note that Punjab Farmers Kisan Credit Card outstanding are Rs 66,749 crs per this Tribune Chandigarh  report 

13. Some aggressive Punjabis lay Punjab’s claim on Bhakra Nangal Dam.

The Bhakra project was a joint-venture between the state governments of undivided Punjab and Rajasthan and is physically located in Himachal Pradesh/Punjab/Jammu and Kashmir today.


Read   Why was Bhakra Nangal Dam made


Machoism is part of Punjab culture and Dilli Chalo has historical reasons. So do not get offended by such behaviour. 


14. SC stayed implementation of Farm Laws. Then!

According to this livelaw.in report, “On October 12, 2020, SC issued notice on petitions that challenged the three farm laws. The petitions questioned the competence of the Parliament to enact the same on the ground that these were state subjects.”


Between 12/10/2020 and to date has the SC passed an order on the legality of the farm laws? The expert committee submitted their report on 19/3/2021. As on article date, has SC made report public? This inaction has compounded the problem. 


15. Why Punjab farmers do not wish to diversify?  

Sanjeeb Mukherjee wrote in Business Standard on 27/2/24, “The average gross returns over the actual A2+FL (input costs + own & family labour) cost of cultivation (benchmark costing used by the central government to calculate MSP) in Punjab was highest at 150.3 (Haryana 143%, Chhattisgarh 100%). Corresponding figure for wheat was 172.5%. The CACP showed that in 2021-22 98.8% of rice was procured by centre and state governments for public distribution system (West Bengal highest paddy producing state figure was 12.5%). Economist SS Johl says reason why farmers are reluctant to shift from mono-cultivation is free power. No crop can match paddy in terms of returns.  

Returns from Paddy and Wheat in Key States. Note Punjab figures. Courtesy Business Standard. 

Farmers are reluctant to shift because of trust deficit with state government. They had promised to buy moong at MSP but later backed off.” 

Financial mismanagement over decades has weakened the paying capacity of the Punjab government. Across parties, focus is on freebies.


Punjab has two key problems.

Resident Punjabis have lost the risk-taking and entrepreneurial spirit. This is the same community that re-built their lives post partition. That spirit needs revival.  


Until religion and politics are delinked, Punjabi society and politics will not be at peace.

Punjab needs a strong willed government who can effect and communicate the need for change, not to forget improved financial management.  


This article should not be republished without written approval of www.esamskriti.com. Article pictures by author.


Also read

1. Decoding Scrapping of Farm Laws

2. Why Mandatory MSP is a bad idea

3. Regulatory Framework for NRI owning agricultural land

4. What is the problem in Punjab

5.  Damage caused by Free Power

6. Is Punjab dying

7. Looking beyond loan write offs for farmers

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